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Raquel's Story: From Homelessness to Community Action

Five years ago, Raquel, a single mom of three children, graduated from our Shelter Program and moved into stable housing. Since then, Raquel has put her heart for change to action in our community. Read her story below.


Woman with long brown hair smiling wearing a black shirt

I'm a single mother of three amazing children.

I am always on the precipice of losing it all. Every cent earned is already accounted for before I receive it.

For nearly a decade, I maintained four part-time jobs, working eight days a week. Throughout those years, I struggled, as I could not receive rental assistance simply because I worked.

Spending over 75% of my income on housing, and with a few evictions under my belt, the feeling of being a dollar away from a disaster was daunting.

From 2010 to 2018, I had to move my family 13 times, not including a 16-week stent amidst four hotels. Then the unfathomable happened.

I was out of money, there was no couch or floor space left at friends' homes. We had to go into shelter. This was a tremendous culture shock to me, as I swore it was not in the cards. I swallowed my pride, surrendered, and took my family into shelter.


Many landlords were onboard to rent to me—until they heard the word voucher.

With the support and guidance of Family Promise of Morris County, I learned that I qualified for a voucher because I had been classified as "chronically homeless."

Finally, some relief.

I had 30 days to find a place to live. I contacted and visited nearly every available unit in the county, regardless of the asking price. Many landlords were onboard to rent to me—until they heard the word voucher.

I tried ensuring landlords that I’d be able to come up with the difference in rent, from what my voucher covered to the asking price of the unit. This was a no-go every time.

By the grace of God and the strength of a good friend, I found a home where my family has resided for the past five years and counting.


Through resilience, friends, and perseverance we got through the thick of it mostly unharmed. But unfortunately, that doesn't mean self-sufficiency.

Prior to this, my youngest, now 11, only knew moving, couch surfing, floors, and hotels. He associates the memories of his earlier years with the brown house, the pink house, the yellow house, this person's house.

My two older children, a boy and a girl, were the same age as my youngest is now when the darkness of homelessness began to impact us. They are warriors to say the least.

They were displaced multiple times. They came home from school to me packing up everything we owned, post eviction court, with three hours to get our belongings out.

Through resilience, friends, and perseverance we got through the thick of it mostly unharmed. But unfortunately, that doesn't mean self-sufficiency.

The system was designed to keep you in the system. It's not successful in lifting people out of poverty in a permanent way.



A woman speaking at a podium, with two flags--American flag and Morris County flag--behind her. A woman and man stand to her left.
Raquel sharing her story at the 2023 Morris County Community Resource Exchange.

The current structure has done little to foster independence and long-term income growth for poorer households.

It's a dated process that our parents didn't have the foresight to see; that decades later it's not only hindering progress, but also handcuffing it.

Progress will only emerge out of the right conditions for success. The sort of change we need goes much deeper, and is more far-reaching, than most have considered for many years.

The truth is, that those who go through the system know how it functions. As for me, I've been saying these things for years.

What began as heated discussions with friends speaking about America's 800-pound gorilla—homelessness, the lack of affordable housing, and the lack of interest for system improvement—turned into being asked to participate in a focus group about food insecurity.

It was then that I realized the people that could actually do something about it wanted to ask me questions and hear my point of view!


The heaviness of being impoverished has been replaced by the lightness of making real change.

I was thrilled at the opportunity to use my voice and provide true insight on the topic. I loved the feeling! After that, I was on a mission to participate in as many “system issue” focus groups as possible.

Then, I thought, “Was having food, job, and housing insecurities the best thing that ever happened to me?”

Not long after, I began weekly participation on the Morris Continuum of Care's Advisory Board.

This led to my participation on the Allocations Committee, where we scored provider program applications for federal funding. I have also sat on the Executive, Strategic Planning, and Permanent Housing Committees, and currently attend the broad meetings.

I am proud of these accomplishments, and the feeling has freed me. The heaviness of being impoverished has been replaced by the lightness making real change.

I can finally share my wild ideas with bigwigs and decision makers. The ideas for system change that my closest friends and I talk about.


If there is one thing I ask...keep in mind that everyone has demons to battle. It's much harder to battle those demons when you don't have a place to call home.

The change I have in mind won't be easy, it won't be quick, and it will require changed mindsets and new ideas. It requires unpicking entrenched assumptions that success can be found by pursuing short-term savings and that people primarily care about narrow financial incentives.

What if we started by designing a system to help people overcome challenges? Challenges that stem from those other factors in their decision-making, rebalancing the role of financial incentives?

I found what I love! The more involved I become, the more I realize the importance of doing what you love.

Work fills a large part of our lives, and the only way to be satisfied is to engage in great work. To do what you consider “great work,” you must do what you love.

If there is one thing I ask, it's that when dealing with those facing or at risk of homelessness, keep in mind that everyone has demons to battle. It's much harder to battle those demons when you don't have a place to call home.

Community resilience starts with compassion and empathy. Just the slightest taste of empathy opens us up as humans.

When a community is in crisis, we must take collective action. Generational poverty needs to end!



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